Darkness was creeping over the scattered hills of the age-old Aravalli Range as the Agra Fort-Ajmer Express of Indian Railway ran fast to reach its destination. This was our family's first trip to Rajasthan, the largest state of India.
The Indian Railway was very punctual. We reached Jaipur, the capital city of Rajasthan, seven minutes earlier than the scheduled arrival time.
Our Hotel Krishna Palace, already booked online, had pick and drop service from the station. Our room on the first floor had a king size bed and two futon beds. All the furniture and fittings of the hotel told us of Jaipur's royal legacy.
We quickly freshened ourselves and went out for dinner. We decided to enjoy the night time beauty of Jaipur, popularly known as 'Pink City'. During the rule of Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh II, Jaipur was painted pink to welcome Prince of Wales, Albert Edward in 1876, since it was considered the colour of hospitality.
The old city area still remains painted in pink, giving Jaipur a distinctive appearance. We roamed around the adjacent areas of the Hawa Mahal and took some photos with the majestic architectural icon built in 1799 by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh.
Designed by Lal Chand Ustad, the Hawa Mahal looks like a honeycomb from outside with 953 small windows, called 'jharokhas', decorated with intricate latticework. The palace is rightly named Hawa Mahal, meaning the palace of winds, as the tiny windows ensure free flow of winds and keep the palace cool.
Our rendezvous ended at around 10:30 pm followed by dinner with delicious Rajasthani street food. Before going to our room, we booked a car for our next day's excursion to the mighty forts of Jaipur.
Our driver, a tall and lean built Surendar Singh, was extremely punctual. We started at 9 am towards Nahargarh Fort which was 19 km away from our hotel. It took around 50 minutes to reach the fort on the edge of the Aravalli Hill, offering an unimpeded view of Jaipur City.
The fort was built mainly in 1734 as a place of retreat by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh. The fort was originally named 'Sudershangarh', but it became known as 'Nahargarh', which means 'abode of tigers' due to deep forests surrounding it.
A popular belief says that 'Nahar' refers to Nahar Singh Bhomia, a Rhathore prince whose spirit haunted the area and obstructed the fort's construction. His unsatisfied spirit was calmed by building a temple in his memory within the fort.
Our next destination was the Jaigarh Fort named after Sawai Jai Singh who built it in 1726 to protect Amer Fort and his palace complex. Jaigarh fort, 6 km away from Nahargarh Fort is situated on the headland called 'Cheel ka Teela' (Hill of Eagles) of the Aravalli range. It overlooks the Amer Fort and the Maota Lake.
Here we saw a cannon named 'Jaivana', which was manufactured in the fort precincts and was then the world's largest cannon on wheels. For lunch, we enjoyed a Rajasthani thali and a Punjabi thali in a popular veg restaurant on the way to Amer Fort.
Originally built by Raja Man Singh in 1592, the town of Amer and the Amer Fort are 11 km away from Jaipur. Later, many additions and modifications were made by Sawai Jai Singh.
Widely known for its artistic styles and elements, the fort overlooks Maota Lake, the main source of water supply in the area. Amer Palace, an epitome of Rajput architecture also bears influence of Mughal architectural styles.
The opulent palace, constructed of red sandstone and marble, consists of Diwan-e-Aam (hall of public audience), Diwan-e-Khas (hall of private audience), Sheesh Mahal (mirror palace), etc.
The colossal complex was the residence of the Rajput kings and their families. Our guide informed us that Raja Man Singh had 12 queens, and so, he made 12 rooms for each of them which were connected to the King's room by separate staircases. But Raja Sawai Jai Singh had only one queen so he built one large room equal to three of the old queen's rooms.
Next our driver took us to the Royal Gaitor Tumbas (a tomb for maharajas). The Gaitor charmed us by the impressive use of marble in its exquisite domes and carved pillars.
When we reached Jal Mahal, the last spot of the day, it was already 5:30 pm. It is a palace in the middle of the Man Sagar Lake and was originally constructed in 1699 as a hunting lodge for the king and his entourage.
The five storied palace, built with red sandstone, is famous as an embodiment of the Rajput style of architecture on a grand scale.
However, we could not visit the building since it was not open for visitors because of an impending court case. But we strolled around the lake until sunset.
Our day ended on a perfect note as we enjoyed a delicious dinner with momos and noodles after coming back to Jaipur.
The next day was our last in Jaipur. At first, we went to Jantar Mantar, a collection site of 19 astronomical instruments built by Sawai Jai Singh. The monument, completed in 1734, features the world's largest stone sundial, and is a Unesco World Heritage site.
Our next destination was the nearby City Palace, one of the most cherished tourist attractions in Jaipur. The palace is still the home of the Jaipur royal family, being served by around 500 servants.
While we were in the Diwan-i-Khas of the palace, we saw a pair of huge silver vessels which were reportedly made by melting 14,000 silver coins without soldering. Created over two years between 1894 and 1896 by Jaipur silversmiths, they weighed 340 kgs each.
A devout Hindu, Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh II carried Ganga water in these vessels, each having 4,000 litres storage capacity, while going to England in 1901. These have been recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the world's largest silver vessels.
The City Palace is a beautiful specimen of Mughal, European and Rajput architectural brilliance. Some of the special features such as magnificent pillars, lattice or 'jali' work, carved marble interiors and inlaid ornamentations made the palace a magnificent treat to the visitors' eyes.
Our boys also loved the puppet show performed by a local family inside the building. As we remained enchanted by the beauty of sunset from the top floor, we remembered we were leaving behind the majestic pink city.